Andrew Smith: Celtic need oven-ready performers rather than ‘project signings’ to serve up success

Celtic will hope new signing Patryk Klimala can hit the ground running. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Celtic will hope new signing Patryk Klimala can hit the ground running. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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Projects would appear to have become more pricey for Celtic. And more pressing. It doesn’t seem to have raised any eyebrow that the champions were willing to splurge £3.5 million on 21-year-old striker Patryk Klimala this week. Yet, it is an investment in which the risk and reward equation can only be considered firmly in the balance.

Now, it might be immediately pointed out that only two years ago Celtic lavished a record fee of £9m to acquire then 19-year-old forward Odsonne Edouard on a permanent basis from Paris Saint-Germain. By then, though, the French youngster, over the course of a loan season, had been assessed by Brendan Rodgers as a talent that would prove a platinium-plated asset for the club.

Klimala’s career and pedigree, while of course encouraging, offer no such certainties. The Polish striker is an entirely different proposition to an Edouard whose back story and natural talents were shaped in his formative years by one of the global big hitters. Klimala, even if drawing parallels in recent days with Robert Lewandowski – for obvious reasons – and Jamie Vardy, thanks to his thrusting, 
scampering style, has netted only 11 goals in 48 appearances in the middling league set-up that is the Polish top flight.

The context to Klimala’s signing can be considered with relation to comments made by Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell the last time the club paid £3.5m for a 21-year-old with limited exposure to senior football at a level that offers indicators. That player was Croatian Jozo Simunovic in September 2015. Lawwell conceded then that Celtic increasingly were being forced to up the ante with outlay and snap up players at ever-earlier stages of their development. The modest attractiveness of the Scottish environment makes it a fact of life that the major, more monied leagues would make clubs within them competitors they could not fend off were they to wait until such prospective talents had travelled any sort of distance in their career trajectories.

The crazed obsession with claiming a ninth, then record tenth straight title win as they have to fight off a ramped-up challenge from Rangers now places Celtic in a quandary. Their model is based on developing projects... for reasons outlined above. Yet, they require oven-ready performers to give comfort to their neurotic support that they will not be eclipsed any time soon by their rivals.

Moreover, Celtic have been spoiled by the outstanding success of their frontline succession-planning in recent years; Klimala’s arrival patently an attempt to backfill the central striker role that will inevitably be vacated by Edouard as the result of enticements from top end English Premier League clubs come the summer.

For Celtic to lose Moussa Dembele in 2018 and have Edouard in situ to provide a seamless transition from one Frenchman who will be worth £50m in his mid-20s to another is a once-in-a-generation occurrence. And for Celtic, only two seasons ago, to have this pair and a fully-firing Leigh Griffiths to share the burden of spearheading the team is a nirvana they will struggle to luxuriate in again.

In the decade since Neil Lennon first took the reins, Celtic have had to kiss an awful lot of frogs to find their princely predators. That is how the transfer market works. And the rate of atrophy among forwards, across the board in the game and not only at Celtic, is unforgiving.

Lennon succeeded first time around because he made four smart attacking purchases in bringing in Gary Hooper, Kris Commons, Anthony Stokes and Griffiths. Yet between this quartet and Dembele, and Edouard, with honourable mention to Scott Sinclair, there’s been a decidedly mixed picture.

The club have had little or no return from the £16m worth of transfer fees and hefty wages invested in Mohamed Bangura, Amido Balde, Lassad Nouioui, Miku, Stefan Scepovic, Nadir Ciftci and current peripheral performer Vakoun Bayo. The story is the same for a host of loan forwards that includes Freddie Ljungberg, Pawel Brozek, Carlton Cole and Colin Kazim-Richards.

Any moves that did not work out did not prove costly beyond the sums invested in them. With Steven Gerrard having fashioned a squad capable of claiming the title – built around the £1m steal Alfredo Morelos – then the expectations and requirements placed on Klimala could put him in the too-important-to-fail category.